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Leading Change From Inside Out Part I

This video delves into the intricacies of transformation and change, emphasizing that it’s not about grand gestures but rather the sum of numerous interactions. Focusing on leading change, the author highlights the significance of human connections and conversations in driving transformation. The narrative challenges the notion of achieving change through impersonal means like email and underscores the need for genuine engagement. Drawing on anecdotes, including a corporate merger example, it underscores the importance of addressing below-the-surface issues with interventions that match the context. Ultimately, it conveys a holistic perspective on change, urging readers to recognize that real accomplishment occurs in the nuanced interactions beneath the organizational chart.


Transformation and change is quite often not a matter of boiling the ocean. You can’t boil the ocean, forget it. But you can boil this little glass here. You can boil this little cup of water. Transformation and change, especially leading change, just comes down to interactions. Thousands of tiny conversations over the course of a period of time. So who you are as a human being in those conversations is what leads to transformation. You can’t transform anything with the with email. I’m sorry. It would be so cool if you could just send an email to, you know, 10 or 15 million people and walk away. It doesn’t work that way. So here we go. Hold on to your seat. Thank you again. I love this quote. Everyone gets the experience. Some get the lesson. Okay. By the way, I think you’re going to get these slides. Am I right? Ingrid. Colleen. So, please, if you take notes, I’ll know you’re awake, so that’ll help. Okay. But you don’t have to take notes unless you want to. Everyone gets the experience. Some get the lesson. Everybody goes to work every day. Two people go and work in the same organization, sit beside each other. One of them goes home at the end of the day saying, what a disaster. A man. I don’t know why I’m even here. The other person goes home and say, boy, did I learn a lot today.

So which one are you going to be? It’s your choice. And I know if you’re in this program, I know which side of the equation you’re on. So T.S Eliot, this is a way change and work is usually planned. This is the way things are now. This is the way we want it to be down the road. And then we have some steps to get there. And if it were only this simple, it would be fabulous. You could just put it on a piece of paper and hand it out to everybody, and off you go. The problem is that what all these objectives and budgets and plans and so forth, the flowcharts, the tracking systems are absolutely essential. You have to have these plans. You have to have this upfront. This is the hard stuff of work, the hard stuff of the change process. The only problem is that’s not how it happens. I had a good friend in the in the American Army. He led the airborne around the Republican Guard in the first Iraq War, and I met he was a high school friend, and I asked him about leadership. And I said, do you guys plan for this? He said, Johnny, we got plans like this. And he said, but make sure to tell your people this planning is priceless.

Then he said, the plan itself is useless. And he was quoting General Eisenhower. Now why is that? You have to plan. But how long does the battle plan survive? The battle plan survives until initial contact. With who? Great. Your budget. Your project plan survives until initial contact with who? Reality. Okay, five seconds of reality, right? I have a plan for this presentation. It’s already changed by what has gone on before. So the problem with slides is you can’t change the slides. So. So I’m going to be I’m going to be maneuvering here by the way in a few minutes I’m going to take off my jacket. And I hope you all will join me. So I don’t feel really stupid up here with only so all you men please. All the research says the more informal the learning environment, the faster people learn and the more they remember. So let’s get let’s get comfortable here. All right. This is the way things actually happen. There’s a thing called the waterline and above the waterline. You’ve got people trying to look committed below the waterline. You’ve got human beings interacting to get the thing done or not. These are two very different worlds, two different attitudes, two different agendas. You cannot respond to a below the waterline issue with an above the waterline intervention.

I was consulting with the Boeing Company. They put all of their high potential people through this leadership intensive, and the guys told me this story. Some of these engineers, very high, high powered people, you know, it’s not rocket science. We had rocket scientists in the room. It’s really fabulous. And they need training just like everybody else. And this guy said that the, the, the, the CEO of the company was walking through the Wichita plant. They just bought McDonnell Douglas 4 or 5 years before the merger. Okay. And he said he was walking through the McDonnell Douglas plant and he saw a bunch of and he saw the Boeing plant that used to be the McDonnell Douglas plant five years before. And he saw a bunch of McDonnell Douglas Mousepads and t shirts and cups, and he got really upset. So he went back and he wrote an email to 120,000 people. He said, I was walking through the Wichita plant and I saw a bunch of McDonnell Douglas things. What’s going on? We merged five years ago Monday morning. There will be no more McDonnell Douglas paraphernalia anywhere to be seen. What do you think happened on Monday morning? Everybody, Boeing people borrowed McDonnell Douglas stuff. They were saying, you can’t tell us what to care about. You can’t dictate what we find important, what’s precious to us.

Now, I thought that’s a below the waterline experience. And he was trying to respond with an above the waterline intervention. It is never going to work. What if he had come back and had the very same first paragraph? I was walking through the McDonnell Douglas plant, the Boeing plant in Wichita, and saw a bunch of McDonnell Douglas stuff out around what’s going on. That stuff must be very important to you. What does it represent? On Monday morning at 8:00, I want everybody in the company to take an hour, the first 30 minutes. If you have any McDonnell Douglas people talk about what does that mouse pad, what did you have? Have that you miss. What did you have? Back there in that, in that experience that you that you yearn for second half hour talk about how you can get some of that going right now without having to get permission from anybody, would have changed that organization in an hour. That’s the kind of thinking you have to do. You have to understand life is happening in stereo. Somebody walks up to you with a question. It will always be, almost always. Unless it’s somebody in this room who’s been through this program. It will always be a technical or an operational question. And you’ve got to learn to say what is not being said here, what is going on below the waterline? There’s a great TV commercial.

I’ve been in Eastern Europe now for 4 or 5 years, but this TV commercial, there’s a guy sitting at the breakfast table reading the newspaper, and his wife comes to the front door, I mean, the door to the kitchen. And she says, honey, does this dress make me look fat? Now there’s only one right answer to that question, okay? And, and and this guy, this guy didn’t didn’t get it right. He said yes, sweetheart, whatever. And then and then the tagline says in the time it would have taken to make the bed up in the guest room, you know, you could save $100 on your car insurance or something like that. Okay. It’s never about what it’s about. If you’re in a marriage relationship, you know what I’m talking about. It’s never about what it’s about. It’s never about the toilet seat or whose turn it was to take out the trash. It’s always about something like, do you love me? Right? It’s always about that. So you’ve got to ask yourself, what is this question really about? All right, here we go. What you have above the waterline is the organizational chart. Below the waterline. You’ve got people interacting in a network. If you want to get something done you do not go to the organizational chart.

You say, who do I know over there that I trust, am I right? You go with the people you trust and you stay away from the people that you don’t. If you have to relate to them because you have to tick the box, you’ll do it. Above, the water line exists for accountability. You have to have it. But accomplishment occurs below the water line. The org chart doesn’t do anything. The budget doesn’t do anything. Your plan doesn’t do people do stuff. So everything you learned here, everything you learned here, will be with you for the rest of your life. This is not just about, you know, leading workshops and stuff. This is about leading a life. This is where life happens. It happens in both places. Are you with me so far? All right. In Poland, by the way, it’s very difficult to tell. I’ve been in in Poland now for a few years, central and Eastern Europe. And people sit like this. And after this three and a half day workshop with these, these guys, I went up to one of them and I said, how was this for you? And he said, Nigel and I turned to my Polish friend. The guy walked away and I turned to my Polish friend. What does Nigel mean? He said, not bad. And I said, I said, not bad.

Three and a half days of this heart, you know, heart rending stuff. And the guy says, not bad. And Derek said, John, the guy just told you that you changed his life. And I said, well, why didn’t he tell me? He said, he did. He told you it was not bad. Incident in Poland. That’s as good as it gets. I mean, I’m looking at it, the audience in Poland, and it’s like, hello? Hello. Anybody out there? No. But you know what they are absolutely. See under communism. See, somebody explained this to me. They say in the old days, which is code. Okay. In the old days, you would never in a room like this, nobody would ever speak out. The first time I did a talk in Poland six years ago for a big oil company on work in the human spirit, I had people pair off like you’re going to do a little bit and talk with each other. And then I rang a bell and said, I’d like to hear what you have to say. Nothing. No, I said, somebody, nothing. So like a good consultant, when in doubt, gather data. Right. So I said, what’s happening? This has never happened to me before. Why? Why aren’t you all speaking? And woman over here called me over and and she said she whispered, she said we’re not used to having our opinion asked for. And I thought maybe it was a company culture thing.

And then a guy over here, a man across, he said in the old days, John, there was no upside to speaking out in a room of this size, only risk. And I almost started to cry. I thought the the freedom that that I’ve enjoyed and that many of us enjoy. You don’t even, you don’t even know until you get with people that don’t have it and are still remembering. See? So I said, look, for the next hour, I want you to pretend like it’s safe in here and that I really, really am interested in what you have to say. And very slowly, over the course of that hour and hour and a half, they began to open up, and by the end it was like a flood, a torrent. And people were I mean, people were moved because I was doing a thing on work and the human spirit. And they said, those two don’t even belong in the same sentence. Okay, you all are so fortunate. We all are. So here’s what you have above the waterline. You have Permanent Secretary A talking to permanent Secretary B okay, what do you have? Below the waterline? Is Mark talking to Doris. All right. Now guess what? The quality of this relationship down here determines the quality of the decision making up here, am I right? Yeah. So everything you learned here about building relationships is absolutely essential to you.


This insightful video delves into essential survival skills for navigating today’s workplace challenges. Covering skills seven to ten, it emphasizes the importance of developing courage to face challenges (symbolized by “tigers”), mastering cross-functional teamwork, adapting to rapid change, and finding purpose beyond routine tasks. The author encourages readers to view their work as contributing to a larger purpose, urging them to quit a mundane job and discover work that aligns with personal passions and makes a meaningful impact. With a focus on personal development, organizational growth, and effective teamwork, the video provides practical advice for thriving in the dynamic modern workplace.

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